Baffling lineup switches continue to be the story of the Pistons’ season in loss to Spurs

John Kuester hates being a sympathetic figure. That’s the only conclusion I can draw.

After he made the decision to bench Rip Hamilton, he earned some support among a large segment of Pistons fans who had been pleading for that move for a while. Then he blew it when he failed to inform Hamilton of his decision and when the story of Kuester sending an intermediary to talk to Hamilton for him was leaked, public opinion turned and Kuester looked like an aloof, poor communicator who alienated a respected veteran player.

Then the boycott/not a boycott happened and Kuester once again became a bit of a sympathetic figure (don’t get me wrong, everyone still thought he was a terrible head coach, they just felt kind of bad for him). And that lasted, what, a couple weeks?

Kuester, of course, eroded that goodwill once again when just before game time he decided that Rodney Stuckey, who had played really well over the last four games, was no longer starting, and Tracy McGrady, who had been a DNP-CD for five straight games, was back in. No explanation, nothing to see here. This kind of thing happens everywhere, right? Why should Kuester have to explain a move that, without any context provided, looks kind of insane?

Now to be fair to McGrady, he never deserved to be removed from the rotation in the first place, and he proved it against San Antonio. McGrady finished with 15 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds and just two turnovers and was the deliberate, in-control decision-maker he was throughout most of his tenure as starting point guard.

The Pistons lost, of course, as teams that allow opponents to shoot 80 percent in the first half tend to. But they played hard in the second half, got within five points a couple times, took care of the ball and shot the ball better in the second half after starting the game slow offensively.

But there’s also plenty to second-guess. The Pistons were shredded by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They shot 19-for-26 and combined for 40 points and 12 assists. They were constantly in the paint, either finishing, finding teammates slashing to the basket or hitting open perimeter shooters. The Pistons’ best defensive guard, Stuckey, only played 15 minutes. He certainly couldn’t have guarded both of them, and if he played more, maybe they both still have great game. After all, Stuckey might be the best defensive guard the Pistons have, but he’s still far from a stopper. But the point is, just as there was no rhyme or reason to bench McGrady, there wasn’t a reason, unless something happened in practice (which isn’t out of the question, considering Kuester and Stuckey have clashed before), to bench Stuckey either.

I’m all for playing the guys who work the hardest. I’m all for sending messages to guys who have poor attitudes or work habits by cutting their playing time. But Kuester’s lineup switches are beginning to look more and more like a guy who long ago lost the respect of the locker room clinging to the only thing he really has left to control — the playing time.

McGrady in means Bynum is out

Will Bynum‘s all-or-nothing style grates on the nerves of certain commenters who shall remain nameless.

I’ve long maintained that Bynum’s style often trends into selfish on occasion (though not on the exaggerated scale that some in the comments here like to portray) is a result of the fact that his spot in the rotation and on the team has never been secure. He plays like a guy on a 10-day contract every time he steps on the court.

Bynum didn’t play against San Antonio, and this comes on the heels of a February in which he did the following:

  • 12.6 points per game
  • 4.9 assists per game
  • 1.5 steals per game
  • 1.6 turnovers per game
  • 50 percent from the field
  • 38 percent from 3-point range

He has flaws. He’s a defensive liability and often breaks off the offense in order to look for his own shot. But when he’s shooting efficiently and not turning it over, and he was great in both of those areas in February, he’s an asset in the 20 or so minutes per game he plays. February was one of the best months of his career production-wise. He played hard and he kept the Pistons in games a few times when starters were struggling.

And of course when March started, his minutes were immediately cut by 10 per game through the first three games of the month, culminating with a DNP-CD in the fourth game. I totally understand the need for the Pistons to have an odd man out in the rotation. But the fact that Bynum was actually the most productive guard on the team for the month of February and still lost his rotation spot fully explains why Bynum plays the way he does. He has the quickest hook on the team, whereas other guards, particularly Stuckey, have been given incredibly long leashes when it comes to getting minutes regardless of how inconsistently they produce.

Spurs get physical with Daye

Austin Daye and his upside have been a big topic of discussion over the last few days here (what else are we supposed to talk about, really?). Against San Antonio, the Spurs exposed what remains his biggest weakness: he’s just not strong enough to handle physical defense.

Daye shot 2-for-6 in 24 minutes. He didn’t get many looks at threes because the Spurs have several wing players who are very good at closing out on shooters. And when Daye reacted by putting the ball on the floor, the Spurs’ defenders were good at making contact with him without drawing fouls. Daye can’t back down stronger defenders and he gets pushed out further than he wants to operate. He also fouled out because Richard Jefferson and Manu Ginobili made a point of going at him defensively.

To Daye’s credit, he fights. He fought when he was put in the insane position of trying to be a power forward and guard players like Zach Randolph early in the season, and he meets the challenge when burly wings like Jefferson push him around. He still rebounded and he still did his best defensively. Those are extremely positive things that show he’s a competitive, tough guy. But until he adds muscle, good teams like the Spurs are going to be able to do that to him, and it’s going to hurt his ability to provide consistent production.

Matt Bonner is a great value

One of the common defenses of the Charlie Villanueva signing is that stretch fours are becoming a vital component of NBA teams, so it’s OK to splurge on a shooting big man who is somewhat limited in other phases of the game. I’ve made the case myself at times that I don’t think Villanueva’s contract is as obscenely bad as some others.

But scratch that. Matt Bonner blew up all of those lame Villanueva contract justifications. For half the cost of Villanueva, Bonner is a better shooter. On top of that, he’s a player who has improved defensively in San Antonio, he’s a better rebounder than Villanueva and, as we saw last night with his ability to put the ball on the floor a little bit, he’s added to his offensive repertoire. All of that from a player considered a one-dimensional shooter when he was in Toronto.

Monroe vs. Duncan

There was a lot of talk pregame about the work ethic and demeanor of Greg Monroe in comparison to Tim Duncan. Monroe started pretty slowly against the Spurs but finished strong, notching 16 points and 12 boards. He also did a nice job defensively on Duncan in the second half. Duncan made his first six shots, but didn’t have another make after the early part of the third quarter. He was still his always effective self, scoring 15 points with 12 rebounds in 32 minutes, but the fact that Monroe rose to the occasion and got better as the game went on was another positive sign for his growth.

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